During the Byzantine period a large church complex was gradually built over the house of Cleopas, venerated by Christians as the place of the breaking of the bread by the risen Christ. This church complex consisted of two Basilicas and a baptistery (the complex was unearthed during the archaeological excavations in the late 19th - the beginning of the 20th c., see: Rediscovery of Emmaus). Emmaus-Nicopolis was a large city, a regional centre, and a bishopric. The name of the bishop of Nicopolis, Peter, is mentioned in the list of the Fathers of the Nicaean Council of 325 A.D. The second bishop of the city known to us, Ruphus, was present at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. The third one, Zenobius, signed a decree of the Jerusalem Synod of 536 AD ( see: H. Gelzer, ed., Patrum Nicaenorum nomina, Leipzig, 1898, p. 123 , see here ; M. Le Quien, Oriens Christianus, Paris, 1740, v. III, 594, see here ).
Byzantine Basilica of Emmaus-Nicopolis (5-7th c.) restored by Crusaders during the 12th century.
A mosaic map of the Holy Land, dating to the 6th c. AD, was discovered in the town of Madaba in Jordan. It depicts Nicopolis as an important town, comparable in size with Lod (Diospolis) and Jabneel (Jamnia), see: N. Duval, Essai sur la signification des vignettes topographiques, in: The Madaba Map Centenary, M. Picirillo, E. Alliata, ed., Jerusalem, 1999, pp. 139-140, see here.
Emmaus was situated on the pilgrims’ route from the port of Jaffa (Joppa) to Jerusalem. Throughout this period, Nicopolis was the only place in the Holy Land, venerated as the New Testament Emmaus, in continuation of the tradition that had already existed during the Roman period. Nicopolis was identified both as Emmaus mentioned in the 1st Book of Maccabees, ch. 3-4 (the place of the Maccabees’ battle with the Syrian army) and as Emmaus of the Gospel of Luke. This is illustrated by the following texts:
“Question: How could John say that Christ manifested himself to all his disciples, except Thomas, on Sunday evening [John, 20:19-24] , while Luke says that he appeared only to Peter, when Cleopas and his companion came back the evening of that same day to Jerusalem after having seen the Lord at Emmaus [Luke 24:33-34] ?
Solution: After the [holy] women, it is to Peter that Christ first appeared, then to the Apostles, according to what Paul says: “He was seen by Cephas and then by the Twelve [1st Letter to the Corinthians, 15:5], not counting Thomas, who was absent, but Matthias and Justus [Acts of the Apostles 1:22-23]. Furthermore, it is while Cleopas and his companion were on the way back from Emmaus that Christ appeared to Peter. When they had returned from Emmaus and had recounted to the Apostles how they had recognized him in the breaking of the bread, then Christ showed himself to all of them on Zion, as Luke asserts [Luke, 24:35-36]. One must not be surprised if in the same day they went from Jerusalem to Emmaus and from Emmaus to Jerusalem. It is not written that it was evening when they approached Emmaus, but that it was towards evening [ Luke 24:29], and that the day was declining, as if it were, for example, the eighth or the ninth hour [2 or 3 p. m.]. From the seventh hour [1 p. m.], the sun seems to incline towards the west. Without counting the fact that the joy of announcing the miracle had to hasten their journey and that they would have arrived very late. We have, in effect, the habit of calling evening [ὀψίας, see John 20:19] the time which extends until a late hour in the night. Here, still, Christ appeared to them as well as to the others.”
Hesychius of Jerusalem, Quaestiones, difficultas 57, PG XCIII, 1444, early 5th c., see the original text here, the translation is ours.
The text of Hesychius supposes a significant distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus, which is not easy to cover twice on the same day. The disciples left Emmaus, perhaps, about 3 p.m. and came to Jerusalem very late (10-11 p.m.?). Their journey took thus 6 to 8 hours, which corresponds to the distance of approximately 30 km (19 miles).
“Having risen at the same moment, they returned to Jerusalem” and so on: that is to say that at the very moment that their master, Christ, made himself invisible to their eyes, they returned, not seeing him any longer. It was not at this hour that they found the Eleven gathered and that they gave them the news of the Lord Jesus, but this was after a few hours, after the hours necessary for someone walking to cover the distance of one hundred and sixty stadia, also during which the Master appeared to Simon; ‘and they recounted what had happened on the road’...”
St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary upon the Gospel of Luke, ch. 24, text from the early 5th c., quoted in:
A. Cramer, Catenae Graecorum Patrum, Oxford, 1844, v. 2, p.172, see the original text here;
see also here: Vincent & Abel, op. cit., p. 411, footnote 2, the translation is ours.
“And he answered him, ‘Until the evening and the morning, until two thousand three hundred days; and then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.’ If we read the Books of Maccabees and the history of Josephus, we shall find it there recorded that in the one hundred and forty-third year after the Seleucus who first reigned in Syria after the death of Alexander, Antiochus entered Jerusalem, and after wreaking a general devastation he returned again in the third year and set up the statue of Jupiter in the Temple. Up until the time of Judas the Maccabee, that is, up until the one hundred and eighth year, Jerusalem lay waste over a period of six years, and for three [of those] years the Temple lay defiled; making up a total of two thousand three hundred days plus three months. At the end of the period the Temple was purged. Some authorities read two hundred instead of two thousand three hundred, in order to avoid the apparent excess involved in six years and three months. Most of our commentators refer this passage to the Antichrist, and hold that the things which occurred under Antiochus was only by way of a type which shall be fulfilled under Antichrist. And as for the statement, The sanctuary shall be cleansed, this refers to the time of Judas the Maccabee, who came from the village of Modin, and who being aided by the efforts of his brothers and relatives and many of the Jewish people [defeated?] the generals of Antiochus not far above Emmaus, which is now called Nicopolis.”
St. Jerome, Commentary upon the Book of Daniel, ch. 8, verse 14, text of ca. 407 AD, PL XXV, 537,
see the original text here, translation: Gleason L. Archer Jr., Jerome's commentary on Daniel, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1958
“And tidings from the East and from the North shall trouble him. And he shall come thither with a great host to destroy and slay very many. And he shall pitch his tent in Apedno between the two seas, upon the famous and holy mountain; and he shall come even unto its summit, and none shall help him. Those of our party […] explain the final chapter of this vision as relating to the Antichrist, and stating that during his war against the Egyptians, Libyans, and Ethiopians, in which he shall lose three of his ten horns, he is going to hear that war has been stirred up against him in the regions of the North and East. Then he shall come with a great host to crush and slay many people, and shall pitch his tent in Apedno near Nicopolis, which was formerly called Emmaus, at the beginning of the mountainous region in the province of Judea. Finally, he shall make his way thence to go up to the Mount of Olives and ascend to the area of Jerusalem; and this is what the Scripture means here: And when he has pitched his tent [...] at the foothills of the mountainous province between two seas. These are, of course, that which is now called the Dead Sea on the east, and the Great Sea on the shore of which lie Caesarea, Joppa, Ascalon, and Gaza. Then he shall come up to the summit thereof, that is of the mountainous province, or the apex of the Mount of Olives, which of course is called famous because our Lord and Saviour ascended from it to the Father. And no one shall be able to assist the Antichrist as the Lord vents his fury upon him.”
St. Jerome, Commentary upon the Book of Daniel, ch. 11, verses 44-45, PL XXV, 574, see the original text here, translation: Gleason L. Archer Jr.
The first traveller known to mention his visit to Nicopolis in the Byzantine period, is the anonymous pilgrim of Bordeaux of 333 AD:
“From Jerusalem as follows: City of Nicopolis – miles XXII. City of Lydda – miles X. Change at Antipatris – miles X. Change at Betthar - miles X. City of Caesarea - miles XVI. [...] Through Nicopolis to Caesarea – miles LXXIII.“
Itinerarium a Burdigala Hierusalem, text of the 4th c. AD,; see the original Latin text here ;
translation: The Library of the Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, London 1885-97, p.28.
The distances indicated by the pilgrim of Bordeaux require corrections: the total distance from Jerusalem to Caesarea - 73 miles – does not correspond to the sum of the specified interurban distances: 68 miles. F.-M. Abel (Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, p. 300-301, see here) proposes the following corrections: from Jerusalem to Nicopolis - XX miles, from Nicopolis to Lydda - XII miles, from Betthar to Caesarea - XXI mile, which gives a total amount of 73 miles. The distance of 20 miles between Jerusalem and Nicopolis corresponds to 160 stadia (about 30 km).
A souvenir brought from Emmaus by a Byzantine pilgrim:
a token made of earth from the Holy place,
bearing the image of the Jesus' apparition to the two disciples
(discovered in Samaria, today in Israel Museum, Jerusalem).
A miraculous spring of water was venerated at Emmaus, where, according to a tradition, Jesus had washed his feet during his earthly life.
This spring was filled up around 362 A.D. on the orders of the Emperor Julian the Apostate.
“At Nicopolis in Palestine, previously called Emmaus, there is a spring which provides cures for all kinds of diseases for both men and beasts. For they say that the Lord our God Jesus Christ washed his feet in it after a journey. That man [the emperor Julian] ordered it to be covered with earth.”
St. Theophanes the Confessor, Chronographia, 361\362 AD, text written in 9th century AD, PG CVIII, 160,see the original text here , translation: The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor: Byzantine and Near Eastern History AD 284–813, Cyril Mango, Roger Scott . transl., Oxford. 1997, p. 79
Emperor Julian the Apostate
The spring was later reopened and mentioned by pilgrims in their accounts over the centuries:
“There is a city now called Nicopolis, in Palestine, which was formerly only a village, and which was mentioned by the divine book of the Gospel under the name of Emmaus […] Just beyond the city where three roads meet, is the spot where Christ, after His resurrection, said farewell to Cleopas and his companion, as if he were going to another village; and here is a healing fountain in which men and other living creatures afflicted with different diseases wash away their sufferings; for it is said that when Christ together with His disciples came from a journey to this fountain, they bathed their feet therein, and, from that time the water became a cure for disorders.”
Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, ch. 21, written in 439 AD, PG LXVII, 1280, , see the original text here,
translation: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, Vol. 2, N.Y., 1891, p. 343
The early Christian cult at Emmaus was celebrated in the house of Cleopas. We learn this from St. Jerome’s account, who visited Emmaus-Nicopolis in 386 AD with Paula on the road from Europe to Jerusalem:
“[Paula] arrived next at Antipatris, a small town half in ruins, named by Herod after his father Antipater, and at Lydda, now become Diospolis, a place made famous by the raising again of Dorcas and the restoration to health of Æneas. Not far from this are Arimathæa, the village of Joseph who buried the Lord, and Nob, once a city of priests but now the tomb in which their slain bodies rest. Joppa too is hard by, the port of Jonah’s flight; which also—if I may introduce a poetic fable—saw Andromeda bound to the rock. Again, resuming her journey, she came to Nicopolis, once called Emmaus, where the Lord became known in the breaking of bread; an action by which He dedicated the house of Cleopas as a church. Starting thence she made her way up lower and higher Beth-horon, cities founded by Solomon but subsequently destroyed by several devastating wars; seeing on her right Ajalon and Gibeon where Joshua the son of Nun when fighting against the five kings gave commandments to the sun and moon…”
St. Jerome, Letter 108 to Eustochium, 8, the text of 404 AD, PL XXII, 833, see the original text here,
translation: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. 6, N.Y., 1912, p. 198.
The testimony of St. Jerome confirms once again the information about the location of Emmaus: between Lydda (today’s Lod) and Beth-Horon, about 30 km (19 miles) away from Jerusalem.
The house of Cleopas was also considered to be the place of his martyrdom:
“From Jerusalem it is nine miles to Shilo [Kiryat Yearim], where was the ark of the covenant of the Lord. From Shilo to Emmaus, which is now called Nicopolis it is nine miles. In this Emmaus Saint Cleopas ‘knew the Lord in the breaking of the bread’, and there too he suffered martyrdom. From Emmaus to Diospolis it is twelve miles…”
Theodosius, De situ Terrae Sanctae, 139, written ca. 539 AD,
translation: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, London, 1897, p.91, see the original text here
We receive similar information from the 9th c. Archbishop of Vienne in Lotharingia Ado, who compiled a Martyrology based upon ancient traditions and who places the memory of St. Cleopas on September 25:
“September 25, Nativity [i. e. anniversary of Martyrdom] of Cleopas, one of the 70 disciples of Christ. The Lord appeared to him after his Resurrection while he was walking with another disciple towards the village of Emmaus, which is called Nicopolis nowadays. According to tradition, in the same town and in the same house, where Cleopas had received the Lord as a pilgrim at his table, he was killed by Jews for his confession of Him whom he had recognized at the breaking of the bread. There also he is buried in glorious memory.”
PL CXXIII, 193, see the original text here, the translation is ours.
St. Cleopas is mentioned as a martyr also in the list of the 70 disciples of Christ composed by Jacob Bar-Salibi, and transmitted by Michael the Syrian:
“Cleopas preached in Lydda and was killed.”
Michael the Syrian, Chronicle, Book 5, appendix, written in 1195 AD;
Chronique de Michel le Syrien, J.-B. Chabot, transl., Paris, 1899, v. 1, p. 150,
the translation from French is ours.
The relics of St. Cleopas were most likely kept at Emmaus for a period of time. Ca. 570 A.D., the anonymous pilgrim of Piacenza mentions their location upon the Mount of Olives. The relics were probably transferred there for safe keeping in the context of the Samaritan revolt of 529 (see below).
Starting with the 4th century AD we witness the development of monasticism in the Holy Land, including the area of Emmaus. A famous monk called Abba Gelasios lived here in the middle of the 5th century:
“A cell surrounded by a plot of land had been left to Abba Gelasios by an old man, also a monk, who had his dwelling near Nicopolis. Now a peasant farmer under Batacos, who was then living at Nicopolis in Palestine, went to find Batacos, asking to receive the plot of land, because, according to the law, it ought to return to him. Batacos was a violent man and he tried to take the field from Abba Gelasios by force. But our Abba Gelasios, not wishing that a monastic cell should be ceded to a secular, would not give up the land. Batacos, noticing that Abba Gelasios’ beasts of burden were carrying olives from the field that had been left to him, turned them by force from their course and took the olives for himself; scarcely did he return the animals with their drivers, having caused them to suffer outrages. The blessed old man did not reclaim the fruit, but he did not cede possession of the land for the reason we have given above. Furious with him, Batacos, who had other matters to deal with also (for he loved lawsuits), betook himself to Constantinople, making the journey on foot. When he came near to Antioch, where Saint Symeon’s fame was shining with great brilliance, he heard tell of him (he was indeed an eminent man) and, as a Christian, he desired to see the saint. Blessed Symeon, from the top of his column, saw him as soon as he entered the monastery and asked him, ‘Where do you come from and where are you going?’ He replied, ‘I am from Palestine and I am going to Constantinople.’ He continued, ‘and for what reasons?’ Batacos replied, ‘About many matters. I hope, thanks to the prayers of your holiness, to return and bow before your holy footprints.’ Then Saint Symeon said to him, ‘Wretch, you don't want to say that you are going to act against the man of God. But your way is not favourable for you and you will not see your house again. If you will follow my advice, leave these parts and hurry to him and ask his pardon, if you are still alive when you reach that place.’ Immediately Batacos was seized with fever. His fellow travellers put him into a litter and he hastened, according to the word of Saint Symeon, to reach Abba Gelasios and to ask his pardon. But when he came to Beirut, he died without seeing his house again, according to the old man's prophecy. It is his son, also called Batacos, who has told this to many trustworthy men, at the same time as he gave the account of his father's death.”
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Apophthegmata Patrum), ed. Mowbray, London, 1975,
text written in the 5th c., events of ca. 450 AD, see the Greek text here.
St. Sabbas, one of the Fathers of the monasticism in the Holy Land, founded a monastery at Nicopolis in 508:
“On returning to his own Laura, the sanctified Sabbas found that the forty mentioned above, those prone to share in evil, had suborned others and become sixty. He was distressed and wept copiously at the damage inflicted on his community, and was amazed how envious and prompt is wickedness in effortlessly drawing the lax to itself. At first, he opposed patience to their irascibility and love to their hate, controlling his speech with spiritual understanding and integrity. Subsequently, however, when he saw them grow bold in wickedness and resort to shamelessness, not bearing to walk in the humble path of Christ but alleging excuses for their sins and inventing reasons to justify their passions, he left scope for divine anger and withdrew to the region of Nicopolis, where he lived as a solitary for many days under a single carob-tree, living on carobs. On learning this, the bailiff of the place came out to see him and built him a cell in this very place; this cell, by the help and favour of Christ, became in a short time a coenobium.”
Cyril of Scythopolis, Life of St. Sabas, ch. 35, text of ca. 558 AD, see the original Greek text here, translation: Cyril of Scythopolis, The lives of the Monks of Palestine, Michigan, 1991, p.p. 129-130.
In 529 A.D., an broad Samaritan revolt started in Palestine. Harassed by Byzantine authorities, Samaritans attacked Christians and destroyed many churches in the Holy Land. There is no direct evidence about the events that occurred at Emmaus during the uprising, but according to the archaeological data, the church complex built here in the 5th cent., was rebuilt during the 6th, probably because of the destruction during the Samaritan revolt.
Following texts bear evidence to the Samaritan presence at Emmaus during the Byzantine period:
“Rabbi Aha went to Emmaus [מאוס] and ate their pastries [Samaritans’]”
Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Avoda Zara, 5, 4, events of the 4th c. AD,
ספר הישוב, עורך ש' קליין, ירושלים, תרצ”ט, v.1, p. 6, the translation is ours, see the original text here .
“The same friend of Christ told us about a robber named Cyriacos whose thefts were committed in the area around Emmaus, known also as Nicopolis. He became so cruel and inhuman that they called him ‘the wolf’. There were other robbers with him; not only Christians, but also Jews and Samaritans too. One day—it was in holy week—some people from an estate in the region of Nicopolis came up to the Holy City to baptize their children. When the children had been baptized, they were returning to their own estate to celebrate Easter Day there. But they were confronted by the robbers on the way (the chieftain was not present). The men took to their heels. Casting aside the newly baptized children, the Jews and Samaritans seized the women and took possession of them. As the men fled, they ran into the chieftain of the robbers who asked them: ‘Why are you running away?’ They told him what had happened to them. He took them with him and went in search of his companions; he found the children stretched out on the ground. When he discovered who had perpetrated this atrocity, he beheaded the guilty ones. He had the men take up the little ones (because the women were unwilling to do so on account of their defilement by the robbers) and then he conducted them all safely to their own estate. A little while later, the robber-chief was arrested. For ten years he languished in jail and no ruler had him executed; finally, he was released. He would say over and over again: ‘It is thanks to those babes that I escaped bitter death. I used to see them in my dreams, saying to me: ‘Do not be afraid; we are putting forward the case for your defence’. We met this man, I and Abba John, priest of the Laura of the Eunuchs. He told us all this—and we glorified God.”
John Moschos, The Spiritual Meadow, 165; text of 619 AD, events of the late 6th century, PG LXXXVII, 3032, see the original text here,
translation: John Moschos, The Spiritual Meadow, Michigan, 1992, p.135-136.
Mosaics from the Samaritan synagogue of Shaalbim in the region of Emmaus
(Israel Antiquity authority)
A few miles northwest of Emmaus the ruins of a Samaritan synagogue have been discovered in the village of Shaalbim (see: E. L. Sukenik, The Samaritan Synagogue at Salbit – Louis M. Rabinowitz Fund Bulletin I, 1949, pp. 25-30; R. Reich,The Plan of the Samaritan Synagogue at Sha'alvim, IEJ, vol. 44, 1994, pp. 228-233).
Several stone-carved Samaritan inscriptions found in the vicinity also testify to the presence of Samaritans at Emmaus.
One of them, engraved on the side of an ionic column capital, was found in the ruins of the southern Byzantine basilica. On one side of this capital, there is a Greek inscription which reads: Eis ho theos, meaning: One God, while on the other side there is a Samaritan inscription in Hebrew which reads: Barukh shemo le-olam- Let his Name be blessed forever. The presence of a stone with the Samaritan inscription in the Christian Basilica can be due to the fact that after the suppression of their revolt, the Samaritans were obliged to restore the Basilica using stones from their own buildings.
The column capital is found today in the Carmelite monastery in Bethlehem. See: the Ottoman period for the history of the discovery of the stone.
For more information about this inscription, see: Clermont-Ganneau, 1er rapport, 3e série, v. IX, p. 292ff, and v. XI, p. 251; Pilcher, The Date of the Siloam Inscription, PSBA, 1897, p. 167ff, see here; Conder & Kitchener, Survey of Western Palestine, vol. 3, pp. 64-65, London. 1883, see here; Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, pp. 264-266, drawing XXV, see here; Sukenik, PEF Quarterly Statement, 1931, p. 22, footnote 2, see here; CIIP, vol. IV, part 1, Berlin/Boston, 2018, p. 452-453, see here.
In the region of Emmaus two more stones were found containing Samaritan inscriptions from the Pentateuch: Genesis 24:31; Exodus, 12:23; 15:3,13, Deuteronomy, 33:26. (Today in the collection of the Betharram Fathers, Bethlehem) About these inscriptions see: Lagrange, La Terre Sainte, 15.11.1890 and 15.03.1891; Lagrange, Inscription samaritaine d'Amwas, RB 1893, p. 115 and following (see here), M. De Vogüe, Nouvelle inscription samaritaine d'Amwas, RB 1896, p. 433 and following (see here); J.-B. Frey, Corpus Inscriptionum Judaicarum, v. II, Roma, 1952, nos. 1187-1188, (see here); CIIP, vol. IV, part 1, Berlin/Boston, 2018, pp. 453-456, (see here), see also: The Ottoman period.
ופסח ה' על הפתח ולא יתן המשחית לבא
"The Lord will pass over the doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter" (Exodus 12:23)
יהוה גיבור במלחמה יהוה\ שמו יהוה נחיתו\ בא ברוך יהוה\ אין כאל ישורון
“The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name" (Ex. 15:3)
"LORD, you lead him" (Ex. 15:13a)
"Come, you who are blessed by the LORD" (Gn. 24:31a)
"There is none like the God of Yeshurun" (Dt. 33: 26)
From an archaeological point of view, Emmaus’ Byzantine period is represented by the ruins of two Basilicas. A detailed analysis of archaeological finds in Emmaus can be found in the following sources: Charles Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine during years 1873-74, vol.1, p.483-493, London 1899; L.-H. Vincent & F.-M. Abel, Emmaüs, p.p. 19-274; Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, v. 12, article Nicopolis, Paris, 1935; The New Encyclopaedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, E. Stern ed., Jerusalem, 1993, article Emmaus, v. 2, p.p. 385-389; V. Michel, Le complexe ecclésiastique d'Emmaüs-Nicopolis, Paris, Sorbonne, 1996-1997 (thesis); K.-H. Fleckenstein, M. Louhivuori, R. Riesner, Emmaus in Judäa, Basel, 2003, p.212-310; K.-H. & Louisa Fleckenstein, Emmaus-Nicopolis Ausgrabungen 2001-2005, Novum publishing, 2010. See also: the Rediscovery of Emmaus .
The Eastern (back) wall of the southern Basilica with its three apses was found almost completely intact. Both Basilicas, dating from the 6-7th centuries AD, were built on the site of an older church complex (5th c. AD), the northern part containing what was probably the house of Cleopas while the southern had the miraculous spring of water, which was mentioned above. Inside the Southern basilica several stones arranged in a semicircle were found. These stones probably served as the foundation for the apse of the oldest church building (3rd c. AD?) inside which the water spring was situated. Small baths found nearby could have served pilgrims for bathing in the waters of the miraculous spring (see: K.-H. Fleckenstein, M. Louhivuori, R. Riesner, Emmaus in Judäa, Basel, 2003, pp. 258-259, 263-266, see here).
Plan of the archaeological site of Emmaus:
1-Late-Roman period mosaic
2-Late-Roman period tombs
3-Apse of the oldest church building (3rd c. AD) (?)
4-Late-Roman period & Byzantine baths
5-Three apses of the Southern Byzantine basilica (6-7th c. AD)
6-Northern Byzantine basilica (5-7th c. AD)
7-Baptistery (late 5th - early 6th c. AD)
8-Water cistern connected to the baptistery
9-Byzantine mosaics (5-6th c. AD)
11- Byzantine “Nilus mosaic” was found here
12- Byzantine quarry
13-Crusader church building (12th c.)
Reconstruction of the Byzantine church complex © architect Aaro Söderlund
Byzantine baptistery at Emmaus
In the northern Basilica, the baptistery with water reservoir is well-preserved. It is a cruciform baptistery from late 5th - early 6th c., connected to a water cistern by a conduit. The adjacent small font was used for the separate immersion of children. The baptistery originally possessed a 70cm-high (2.3 ft.) rim and was 125cm (4 ft.) deep. (M. Ben-Pechat, The Paleochristian Baptismal Fonts in the Holy Land, Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, Liber Annuus, 1989, p. 165ff, see here). The baptistery was discovered during the excavations in 1880s. The upper part of the baptistery, as well as the remnants of the apse behind it, were destroyed during World War I by Turkish soldiers.
In the collection of the Latrun Monastery and on the territory of the nearby Canada park, we can see beautifully carved cornices and capitals which probably belonged to the southern Basilica.
Two large fragments of columns, a column base and an Ionic column capital made of white marble, discovered in the ruins of the Northern basilica, have survived. The capital bore Greek crosses carved on its shorter sides. (see here: Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, pp. 164-166, 247-248 illustrations 74-76)
A similar column capital is found in the collection of Latrun Abbey. This column capital was probably found by the monks near the village of ‘Amwas (see: Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, p. 250).
Another capital of the same style was described by Clermont-Ganneau as preserved at the Moslem sanctuary of Musa Tali’a near Tel Gezer (the “Meginim” forest of today), see: Revue Biblique 1899, p. 115-117, 427, see here; Ch. Clermont-Ganneau, Recueil de l’archéologie orientale, vol. 3, Paris, 1900, pp. 123-126, see here.
Items dating from the Byzantine period such as coins, ceramic and glass, ceramic oil lamps, etc. were all found in the ground and grottos around the church compound of Emmaus, see: Karl-Heinz & Louisa Fleckenstein, Emmaus-Nicopolis Ausgrabungen 2001-2005, Novum publishing, 2010, see here.
The original inscription is found in the museum of St. Anne church, Jerusalem
Special attention can be paid to the marble slab discovered in a field west of the church complex, bearing an inscription in Greek: In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, beautiful the city of Christians is. (see: Germer-Durand, Revue Biblique 1894, p.255, see here; L.-H. Vincent, Inscription grecque chrétienne d'Amwas, RB 1913, p.100-101, see here; CIIP, vol IV, part 1, Berlin/Boston, 2018, pp. 465-466, see here).
A Byzantine period tombstone with a Hebrew inscription: “ The resting place of Elazar, the son of Joshua, peace from Emmaus, peace" was discovered near Jaffa in the late 19th c.. (Currently displayed in Jaffa Archaeological Museum). See: S. Klein, Inschriftliches aus Jaffa, MGWJ 75, 1931, pp. 369-374, J.-B. Frey, Corpus inscriptionum iudaicarum, Roma, 1952, no. 897.
Emmaus-Niсopolis, like many regional centres of Palestine in the Byzantine period, possessed bathhouses (see: Claudine Dauphin, La Palestine byzantine, Volume II, BAR Publishing, Oxford 1998, p. 481) . We have already mentioned the 3rd-century Roman thermae, rebuilt in the 5th-6th century after an earthquake, which are situated near the basilicas of Emmaus (see: Late Roman period). There was at least one more bathhouse in Nicopolis, whose hypocaust was discovered in the early 20th c. in a private garden on the northwest side of the village (presently lost), see: Revue biblique, 1911, p. 159, the photograph of this hypocaust was first published in Revue Biblique, 1929, p. 430.
Photo of the hypocaust at Amwas, "Revue Biblique", 1929, p. 430
It is unknown what happened in Nicopolis during the Persian invasion of Palestine in 614 A.D. Perhaps, the church complex of Emmaus was destroyed at that time. We find a distant echo to these events in Rabbi Isaac Helo’s account of his visit to Emmaus in 1334:
“There is an ancient sepulchral monument at Emmaus, it is said to be the tomb of a Christian lord, who fell in the war of the king of Persia”.
translated by us from: Itinéraires de la Terre Sainte, Bruxelles, 1847, E. Carmoly, ed., p.245.
(It should be noted though that some scholars consider this text to be a 19th c. forgery)
The Byzantine period in the history of the Holy Land and of Emmaus ends with the arrival of the Arab conquerors in 637 A.D.